ECLAC respected but not heard

The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the main United Nations body for the region, is an institution with deep roots in the history of economic and social thought. Since its establishment in 1948, its reports, working documents, meetings and conferences have played an important role in the thinking and actions of technical and political cadres in leadership positions. 

From 26 to 28 October of this year, ECLAC held its first virtual session.  All the protocols were normally developed under the presidency of Costa Rica, which succeeded Cuba in that role. Obviously, the online sessions, with the usual occasional difficulties of sound and synchronization, did not have the same impact as the face-to-face sessions. It did not look the same. But not only because of the lack of luster and energy that comes with doing things through a screen, but also because of a certain distance between the spirit of ECLAC and the political moment the region is going through. 

The official document presented, entitled “Building a New Future: A Transformative Recovery with Equality and Sustainability,” represents the organization’s effort to structure a basis for the meeting’s debate and resolutions. This is one of the essential purposes of the document.

ECLAC calls for combining the response to the crisis unleashed by the pandemic with a recovery of sustainable development with equality and environmental awareness.

In the text, ECLAC calls for combining the response to the crisis unleashed by the pandemic with a recovery of sustainable development with equality and environmental awareness. Executive Secretary Alicia Bárcena, in the foreword, argues that the costs of inequality have become unsustainable. Equality is not only an issue of inclusion and human rights, she argues, it is also a way to sustain income and aggregate demand.

The text thus recovers ECLAC’s founding principles and refers to the need for a “development proposal based on the welfare state, technical change and the productive transformation associated with environmental care, which strengthens equality and democracy as the most precious legacy of modernity.

The report calls for a “social pact” and places ECLAC’s thinking on the side of those who believe that the 2008 crisis marked the beginning of the end of neoliberalism and adds that the pandemic has made this crisis even more evident. “The crisis of 2008 first, and to an even greater extent, the crisis of the pandemic, put in check myths that limited the space of ideas and public policies… Some years ago, equality and economic efficiency were considered to be contradictory…

Today there is a growing consensus that inequality is the enemy of productivity, learning and innovation.

Today there is a growing consensus that inequality is the enemy of productivity, learning and innovation. A few years ago, industrial policy was anathema; today there is broad agreement that it is key to reducing technology gaps, diversifying exports, and decoupling GDP from emissions.

The report develops its ideas and supports them with arguments, data and evidence. However, the low reception is evidenced by the fact that the resolutions of the thirty-eighth session write, laconically, that the Commission “takes note of the document Building a New Future: A Transformative Recovery with Equality and Sustainability and welcomes the integrated approach to development that has characterized the thinking of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean since its creation” and “recognizes the relevance of the issues examined and shares the general tenor of the conclusions offered by the document”.

The somewhat dry language is not unusual in the United Nations. However, what is striking at this instance is that in addition to this cold and laconic reception, there is a lack of synergy between the report and the so-called “Political Declaration on Sustainable, Inclusive and Resilient Recovery in Latin America and the Caribbean”, which is being formulated on behalf of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and High Representatives of Latin America and the Caribbean.

This Declaration is much more focused on the response to the Covid 19 pandemic than on the issues of recovery of sustainable development, with equality and greater State participation. Both in terms of redistribution and regulation. And there is a strong interest by the Member States in greater financing, whether through foreign development aid or any mechanism involving suspension or cancellation of debt.

On the other hand, the concepts of “social pact” or “welfare state” are not used and although there is talk of fiscal space and stimuli through public spending and investment, there is no allusion to redistributive policies. Nor is explicit reference made to the type of productive transformation that must be implemented to achieve a green economy, blunting the calls to renew the commitment to Agenda 2030 and its three pillars, the economic, social and environmental. 

At a time when the region is losing instances and spaces for multilateral dialogue, it would be a pity if what we identify as a lack of synergy were to mean that the governments in office are losing the capacity to understand the relevance of ECLAC or simply do not want to show that they disagree with it. At the same time, it would be unfortunate if the same technical teams and the pool of experts that bring ECLAC’s work to life were to lose interest in the lack of echo of its recommendations and become convinced that a new political cycle is all that can be expected.

There has always been a gap between ECLAC’s thinking and the public policies of governments, but this gap widens from less to more, depending on the time. Nevertheless, an effort must be made to find better points of contact, both from the perspective of the internal changes that ECLAC itself can make and from the perspective of greater openness to ECLAC thinking on the part of decision makers.

*Translation from Spanish by Emmanuel Guerisoli

Foto de la Cancillería del Perú en Foter.com / CC BY-SA

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